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A Farewell to Arms

A struggle between individuality and conformity to one’s country, religion, or even a cause forms a main theme in Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms. ” The three main characters of the novel: Frederick Henry, his lover, Catherine, and his Italian friend — a surgeon named Rinaldi, each face the conflict of self-interest opposite self-sacrifice and each of the three characters finds their lives disrupted and the course of events out of their control at various times. When the characters face events or obstacles that seem to show them that their lives (and deaths) are out of their control, they rebel in various ways.

The most obvious instances of events which are out of the characters’ control: the battle in which Frederick Henry is injured, Catherine’s miscarriage, Rinaldi’s crises of spiritual and political faith form a theme in the novel: that which suggests that the major events of one’s life are often ambiguous and uncontrollable. Although Frederick Henry makes a conscious choice to join the Italian army and enter the war, he is not in control of his ultimate orders on the battlefield or the potentiality theat he will become wounded.

Frederick Henry’s friend, Rinaldi, becomes so overworked in Frederick Henry’s absence that he begins to drink too much, his hands shake, and he is reduced to only being able to operate and drink. Both men’s lives have been stripped away from them by a war that is out of their control. Similarly, although Frederick Henry makes a conscious choice to meet Catherine and a conscious choice to attempt to seduce her, his subsequent feelings for her and longing to be with her even if it means deserting the army, are not factors he controls, but factors which control him.

In the later scenes of the novel, the sense of being at the mercy of fate or nature is symbolically shown by the scene when Frederick Henry and Catherine attempt to cross the lake in a rowboat, using an umbrella as an impromptu sail: “The wind was full in it and I felt the boat suck forward while I held as hard as I could o the two edges. It pulled hard. The boat was moving fast. ” In this scene, the characters’ will to escape is shown to be in (momentary) harmony with fate or with Nature. But only a few moments later: “The umbrella strained and pulled and I felt us driving along with it.

I braced my feet and held back on it, then suddenly, it buckled; I felt a rib snap on my forehead”; this bit of foreshadowing indicates the previously described conflict between individual will and fate or nature — and foreshadows Catherine’s death at the novel’s close, (Hemingway). Like Frederick Henry, Catherine is caught in a conflict between her desire to serve the United Kingdom, her country, and a desire to be free to be in love with Frederick Henry. Early in the novel, just before the battle where Frederick henry is wounded, she tells him: “Be a good boy and be careful.

No, you can’t kiss me here. You can’t,” (Hemingway). This shows how Catherine is usually one to stick to rules and she is not looking for any kind of open rebellion. Later in the novel, when she is torn between her love for Fredrick Henry and her sense of duty — she flees with him to Switzerland, but dies in her miscarried child-birth. All three of the main characters in “A Farewell to Arms’ experience a conflict between their sense of duty and their sense of self. The theme of self-against-fate or of self-against-nature and self-against-authority drives the novel throughout.

Henry’s escape from the battle police nad his refusal to surrender to the Italian police indicate that for him the sens of self becomes more important than the sense of duty. Catherine also undergoes this character change. It is not revealed whether or not Rinaldi resolves his crises of faith, gut the reader is left believing that just as Catherine and Frederick henry paid a heavy toll to fate and — Rinaldi, also, will have had a day of destiny, one which came partially from forces outside of his control.

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